Housing minister Grant Shapps has accused Newham Council, East London, of ‘playing politics with peoples’ lives’ over a radical plan to shunt homeless families out of the capital because benefit caps do not allow them to move in to local buy to let properties.
The council has a housing waiting list of 32,000 people and claims cuts to housing benefits mean tenants can claim a monthly allowance of between £250 for a one-bedroom flat and £400 for a four-bedroom property.
To beat the benefit cap, the council has written to more than 1,000 housing associations as far away as Stoke-on-Trent ‘offering’ them tenants and a bounty payment of 90% of the local housing allowance plus £60 a week.
Shapps says the scheme is an election ploy – London mayoral and local elections are due on May 3.
He also pointed out that a web search for rented properties in Newham highlighted more than 1,000 homes with rents cheap enough to fall within the benefit cap.
Sir Robin Wales, mayor of Labour-controlled Newham Council, has also launched a high profile campaign demanding a change in the law to let the council purchase a buy to let portfolio.
“Government policies push people out from the centre of London out to here,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “There just isn’t the capacity to deal with them and we end up chasing around the country trying to find ways to deal with people who are in need”.
“We’ve got hundreds of people looking for places to stay and the result of government benefit cuts, which are still working through as well, means that many more people from wealthier parts of London are looking for places to live in London and they’re just not there.
“We know it is very hard to get property in this borough and round the east end of London. We have written to 1,179 organisations saying could you accommodate some people? We’re not looking to push people all to one place, we’re looking to find the best possible solution for citizens.”
Meanwhile London mayor Boris Johnson said he would not accept ‘social cleansing’ of the capital by shipping out the poor and Shapps commented: “It can’t be right to have people on housing benefit to live in streets and homes that hard-working people are unable to live in themselves. The system is still very generous and I think Newham are perhaps playing politics given that we are in election season.”